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Working in Saudi Arabia

Your guide to expat life in Saudi Arabia

Want to work in Saudi Arabia?

Career advancement and high earning potential are the main attractions for expats moving to Saudi Arabia. Saudi Arabia is the world’s largest producer and exporter of oil, but it has diversified its economy in recent years and now produces and exports a variety of industrial goods. In addition to its booming oil and gas industries, there are lucrative opportunities in engineering, construction, IT and telecoms.

The country’s healthy economy makes it a popular destination for expats. Saudi Arabia is often associated with high earnings and an overall low cost of living.

Business in Saudi Arabia

The Saudi business environment might be different to your home country. It takes time to adapt – and some expats find their contract comes to an end before they’ve had the chance to settle into working life.

The Saudi work environment is patriarchal and strictly hierarchical. Decisions are always made at the top and clear, direct instructions are filtered down. Although it's less common to see women in the Saudi business world, expat women can still get a work permit.

Saudi business culture is underpinned by the principles of Islam, and everyone who works in Saudi Arabia is expected to respect the country’s way of doing business.

Being patient and flexible during meetings is a plus. Saudis tend to express their emotions passionately. This is seen as a sign of engagement, and you’ll often hear raised voices in meetings and discussions.

Practical details

The official language is Arabic, but English is widely used in business. Business hours are usually from 08:00 to 18:00, Sunday to Thursday, with a lunch break between 12:00 and 15:00. Both men and women dress conservatively - knees and shoulders must be well covered. Suits are acceptable for male expats.

A handshake is the standard business greeting, but associates who know each other well may kiss on the cheek. Men should avoid any physical contact with women. Eye contact is important in building trust, and you’ll be judged by your ability to hold someone’s gaze.

It’s not obligatory to exchange gifts with Saudi associates, but it’s often appreciated. Gifts should be wrapped and of high quality, but should never be alcohol, knives or anything made of pork.

Expat salaries in Saudi Arabia

Expats in Saudi Arabia earn very high salaries compared to other countries in the Gulf region. Most employers also provide housing and education allowances, medical insurance and annual air tickets home.

Top tips for working in Saudi Arabia

See what people responding to our Expat Explorer Survey think about living in Saudi Arabia.

I appreciate working in a multicultural environment.

All Expat Explorer survey data and all tips (in quotation marks) are provided by HSBC.

All other content is provided by, Globe Media Ltd and was last updated in September 2021. HSBC accepts no responsibility for the accuracy of this information.

This information is purely for orientation and to inspire further research, it does not constitute advice and no liability is accepted to recipients acting independently on its contents. The views expressed are subject to change.

Always remember to ensure you're aware of and comply with any laws in your host country or country of origin that apply to gift giving and bribery.

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